'Gracious Living' and Rapid Growth : Yorba Linda: Although it is Orange County's fastest-growing city, people come here for the quiet neighborhoods and open space.

Yuskaitis is a free-lance writer who lives in Cypress

When Richard Nixon stopped in his hometown of Yorba Linda during the 1968 presidential campaign, Mary Pat Anderson loaded her two small children into the family's station wagon and went to hear him speak.

"It was mostly women and children out that day, since the men were all at work," said Anderson, a 26-year Yorba Linda resident. Nixon, speaking at his family's home, said, "My father used to raise lemons here. Now, it looks like you raise children."

He was right: People in Yorba Linda were busy raising families then, and they still are. As a residential community with the motto "Land of Gracious Living," Yorba Linda is where people go to find quiet neighborhoods, open space and a country atmosphere.

Yet this is no sleepy little town. While the opening of the Nixon Library and birthplace put the spotlight on Yorba Linda last summer, the community has been getting attention lately for another reason:

It was the fastest-growing city in Orange County in 1989 and the sixth fastest-growing in California.

Yorba Linda's population swelled by 4,480 people last year, bringing the head count to 52,367. Much of the new population moved into the 1,000 new homes built in the eastern part of the city in 1989.

The extraordinary growth was made possible by a series of land annexations from the County of Orange that culminated in the early 1980s, expanding Yorba Linda's area from 3,000 to more than 10,000 acres.

Annexing the land didn't come easy, as neighboring Anaheim Hills engaged in a battle with Yorba Linda over which city should get what parcel.

"There was plenty of confrontation. But eventually LAFCO (Local Agency Formation Commission) determined that everything on the north side of the canyon should go to Yorba Linda," said Phil Paxton, Yorba Linda's Community Development Director.

Once won, the land sat largely undeveloped for years, due to the recession of the early 1980s. Moreover, the city could not provide utilities, such as water and sewer service, to the acreage at one time, Paxton said.

"Had we not had that five-year interim when building just about stopped, Yorba Linda would have been built out many years ago," said Martha Jansen, owner of Century 21 Achievers in Yorba Linda.

Today, new homes stretch as far east as Coal Canyon Road off the Riverside Freeway.

Everything in east Yorba Linda exudes newness, from young trees and still-black asphalt roads to the stark white ranch fences that line horse trails along main streets like Village Center Drive.

"It's the typical Southern California look--the palm trees, stucco homes and tile roofs. It's like living in a vacation resort," said Sherry Hiatt, who moved to Yorba Linda from Carmel, Ind., in April with her husband, Greg, and two young daughters.

Before Greg, director of western operations for Syncor, an Indiana-based pharmaceutical company, transferred to California, the Hiatts made several house-hunting trips, looking at hundreds of homes from Valencia to San Diego.

"We had a lot of requirements. No. 1 was the schools. Also, we were looking for a certain square footage and a big yard, because the kids are used to being outside. We also wanted to be close to the airports, because I travel," Greg said.

The Hiatts found what they were looking for in a new Brighton tract home on Stonehaven Drive--a five-bedroom, 3,640-square-foot home on almost an acre for $525,000. There was room for a pool and hot tub, brick patio and swing set for the girls.

"It's a tremendous place to raise children. I raised a family here, and it was great for my kids," said realtor Jansen.

Yorba Linda has 14 parks, 35 miles of equestrian trails, 20 miles of bicycle trails, a private golf course, nine tennis courts and the Forum Theater for performing arts.

Youth sports such as baseball and soccer are popular, and Yorba Linda's Boy Scout Troop 99 is the oldest Scout troop in Orange County, active since 1916.

While devoid of department stores and major business parks, Yorba Linda has several small shopping centers. The downtown area, with historic buildings from the 1920s, is still active. It is located off Imperial Highway, north of Yorba Linda Boulevard.

Yorba Linda is a city of predominantly single-family, owner-occupied homes and has numerous custom homes.

Median sale price of a single-family home from January through September of this year was $249,900, according to North Orange County Board of Realtors statistics. Median sale price of condominiums during the same period was $147,000.

"In a condo, you're not going to find much of anything with a garage for under $150,000," said Jansen, who is president of the North Orange County Board of Realtors.

Less-expensive condos, selling for about $135,000, are apartment conversions, Jansen said. The city has four mobile-home parks and relatively few apartment complexes.

Three- and four-bedroom single-famly tract homes built in the 1960s sell for about $230,000, Jansen said, and 12-year-old homes in Eastlake Village are in the $300,000 to $400,000 range.

"The prices have gotten a little out of hand, but I think we're seeing some come down. We just had a (resale) house sell for $75,000 less than it would have last year," she said.

Among new tract homes now selling, Warmington's estate homes start at $345,900 and the Covington Classics, on one-third acre lots, are in the high $400,000 range.

As for previously owned custom homes, most sell for $500,000 and up, Jansen said, although there are a few for $2 million.

Yorba Linda is named after Don Bernardo Yorba, a soldier who came to California with Father Junipero Serra in the 1760s. His surname was coupled with the word linda, meaning pretty in Spanish, undoubtedly because the land was so fertile and beautiful.

During the following 150 years, Yorba's land was divided among his descendants and eventually sold to other owners.

Yorba Linda's modern history begins in 1908, when Fullerton pioneer Jacob Stern acquired the Yorba family's land. Stern and his partners hired Janss Investment Co. of Los Angeles to market the area as farmland, and within a year, Midwesterners began arriving.

Avocados, tomatoes, potatoes and cabbage were the main crops produced in Yorba Linda, but the largest and most profitable crop was Valencia oranges.

Business growth began about 1915, and a general store, hardware store, lumber yard and bank soon were established. Yorba Linda Boulevard was paved in 1925 and, after a decade of territorial disputes with its neighbors, the city was incorporated in 1967.

It was the following year that Shauna Leavell moved with her husband and children from Pomona to a home near Fairmont and Yorba Linda boulevards.

"I remember when Fairmont was the edge of town," Leavell said. "When I moved here, the 91 was not a freeway and Yorba Linda Boulevard was just a two-lane street."

Increased traffic is the first thing people mention when asked about the drawbacks of the city's growth. Most view it as a congestion problem, but Leavell sees an additional issue:

"I'm tired of people moving into this neighborhood and not understanding that this is horse property. They drive too fast."

In 1976, the Leavells bought a 20-year-old custom home across town, paying $100,000 for the four-bedroom house on three-quarters of an acre that used to be avocado groves. The yard has stables, a tack room and avocado trees left over from the H&H; ranch.

When the Leavells moved to Texas in 1980, they put the house on the market for $197,500. There were no takers, which was fortunate, since the family moved back to California after less than a year.

"Thank God it didn't sell. I love this house. I love my yard and I love the area," said Leavell, who, now divorced, lives with two dogs, four cats and two horses. Her home was appraised earlier this year for $330,000.

Yorba Linda is known for its large residential lots. Many are one-half to one acre and are zoned for horses--the Leavells at one time had 11.

"This is as close to being in the country, while still being in the city, that you can get," said Larry Baker, a Brea Police Department captain and Yorba Linda resident. "If you ask people what they like about this city, most will say that it still has the small-town environment."

Baker built his 2,000-square-foot home with a little help from his friends in 1975. He had bought the half-acre lot for $16,500. Baker estimates his home is now worth $400,000.

Yorba Linda has contracted for police services from the city of Brea since 1970. Three to four officers in patrol cars and 10 on motorcycles are assigned to the city.

Of all Orange County cities, Yorba Linda had the lowest crime rate per 100,000 population in 1989, state Attorney General's Office statistics show. The crime rate is based on the total number of murders, rapes, robberies, assaults, burglaries and auto thefts in a city during a given year.

Helping to keep an eye on crime in the city is a 9-year-old Neighborhood Watch program that has 6,000 members, said Nancy Harrigan of the Brea Police Department.

Yorba Linda has changed over the years, and it wasn't just the boom in homes and people. It wasn't until the early 1970s that the first license to serve alcohol in Yorba Linda was issued, no doubt a holdover from the town's Quaker roots.

As owners of Village Bowl on Imperial Highway, Mary Pat Anderson, her husband, Ed, and six other couples as partners were granted the liquor license for the bar inside the bowling alley.

The Andersons no longer own the business, now called Yorba Linda Bowl. Mary Pat is a science teacher at Cornelia Connelly High School in Anaheim and Ed is an aerospace engineer with Hughes in El Segundo.

The Andersons raised three children in their home on Torida Way. "We had family things going on all the time, so you really knew everybody. It wasn't like today, where everybody is hustling and bustling."

They bought the house in 1964 because, like most young families, "We wanted something with a yard that was within our price range--which, at that time, was under $25,000," said Mary Pat, chuckling at the thought.

"Most of the people from this neighborhood have moved to bigger houses or newer neighborhoods as they made more money and became more successful. But there are several die-hards like us who have stayed, not because of income, but because of the school system, the parks, our friends.

"You know this is a unique place to live because my husband's been commuting for 17 years."



1990 estimate: 51,221

1980-90 change: 81.3%

Median age: 33.8 years

Annual income

Per capita: 21,725

Median household: 63,715

Household distribution

Less than $15,000: 4.1%

$15,000 - $30,000: 7.9%

$30,000 - $50,000: 20.9%

$50,000 - $75,000: 31.2%

$75,000 +: 36.0%

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